“Don’t worry, being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be.” We’ve heard this line over and over the past few years as we have pursued leaving our life behind here in America and following the Lord’s lead to the Balkans.
The comment usually comes on the heels of questions about how safe it is to live where we are going. “Is it politically stable?” “You said they are muslim, is ISIS nearby?” “You’re nowhere near that ebola stuff right?”
“No, no, I assure you there’s nothing like that. It’s OK, you don’t need to worry…”
“Oh good. Well, you know...being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be.”
This phrase has been floating around in my head for the past 48 hours, ever since I learned of the death of our dear friends and fellow WorldVenture missionary appointees, Jamison and Kathryne Pals. They were traveling in their minivan with their three precious children, Ezra (3), Violet (23 months) and Calvin (2.5 months) in hopeful anticipation of attending a month of training at MTI in Colorado, just as we had a few months prior. They were struck from behind by a semi, slammed into the cars in front of them and their minivan burst into flames taking all of their lives at once.
“Don’t worry, being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be.”
The comment is always well meaning and while I think I know what is really meant I always inwardly cringe when I hear it. I apologize if I am offending any of you who have said this to us because I do know your heart behind it. The problem is that it is not good theology.
We are given no guarantees in the Bible. No special protection for being in full time ministry. (Or any vocation for that matter.) The New Testament accounts of the lives of the apostles seem to indicate that being in the center of God’s will is actually a pretty unsafe place to be. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul shares a laundry list of horrific experiences. Beatings, robberies, stonings, hunger, thirst and on and on.
And yet Paul’s purpose in sharing his sufferings is not so he can win the “greatest missionary of all time” award. It is to point out how weak the suffering made him. How incapable of the task laid before him. It is in this weakness that God’s power shines brightest.
“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
Paul found contentment in his lack of physical safety.
We first met Jamison and Kathryne a little over a year ago at a two week training with WorldVenture in Colorado. We shared the same lodging location and spent most evenings with them and two other couples talking and laughing together after we had finally coaxed our little ones to sleep.
You have to understand that a special bond easily forms between missionaries, no matter where they are in their journey. All of our personalities are different, but we are cut from the same cloth, answering the same call and wrestling through many of the same struggles. Our time with our fellow appointees was so special and as we completed our training and prepared to scatter to the four corners of the earth (literally), we felt such a strong bond of love and friendship.
Jamison and Kathryne were such gentle and kind people. They were soft spoken, but the type that you knew you better listen up when they talked because it was going to be profound. They were quick to smile and laugh. Sincere and earnest. Humble and unassuming. Quick to encourage and faithful to pray. They were who I strive to be.
Thanks to social media, our cohort of appointees has kept in close touch over the past year. We were able to walk beside but from afar with the Pals as they received the news in one doctor’s appointment that Kathryne had a large, likely cancerous, cyst on her ovary and that she was expecting their third child. She went on to eventually have the cyst safely surgically removed in November and to have a sweet baby boy this past May. They were such an inspiring example of faith and grace through that trying season.
We got to see them again in person this past January at another training in Colorado. Kathryne was pregnant and adorable. They brought along Ezra and Violet and because we did not have our kids with us, we had extra time to snuggle with them and to enjoy preschool conversations over bowls of oatmeal in the morning. The Pals were a little weary from what felt like more setbacks in their support raising process, but were also encouraged and looking ahead with eagerness and joyful anticipation to moving to Japan.
A few weeks ago we were able to spend the better part of a day with them in the Twin Cities ahead of a family reunion in Minnesota. We had recently returned from MTI and were eager to tell them all the wonderful things they had in store when they attended in August. We got to hug Ezra and Violet and meet sweet little Calvin.
Jamison was reflecting on how long the process of moving overseas was taking their family. This had been years in the making. They were finally on the cusp of going. They were almost fully supported. They had one more training. They were praying about the right alignment of getting the baby’s passport, getting their visa and then finally arriving in a few short months.
So much hope looking toward the future and excitement about what God had in store ahead.
I can’t help but be struck by the fact that God never intended them to actually go. His plan and purpose was not for them to be in Japan but rather in the going to Japan. The season of preparing, planning, waiting. That was what God had for them and then He called them all home.
Jamison was an eloquent writer and kept a wonderful blog. Last fall he wrote an entry reflecting on what he had learned in the years of waiting to go.
“Ten years ago, I really thought I had something to offer- I thought that I would succeed at whatever I did, because I was The Man. Yikes. Thankfully, the Lord has given me years of realizing my own ineptitude and helplessness. Apart from him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). That was not a fun lesson to learn. But, there is incredible freedom and hope in coming to know it- the Lord delights to use human weakness as a setting for his divine power.”
Of anyone I know I think Jamison and Kathryne were humbly aware of their weaknesses and had full confidence that God would use their willing hearts as He saw fit. Did they expect to not make it to Japan, probably not, but I think they would have been at peace with it. As another appointee in our cohort reflected on Jamison’s facebook page “I’ll never know why, I’ll never know how but somehow I know you’d be encouraging me to know that it’s for the glory of God.”
As we said our goodbyes during that visit a few weeks ago, we prayed together and pondered when our paths would cross again. Would it be on our first home assignment? Would it be decades? That’s the “problem” when you grow to love so many people who are headed all over the world. We all had no idea that their race was almost finished.
The irony is that I think the phrase people keep telling us, “Don’t worry, being in the center of God’s will is the safest place you can be” is ultimately true. We can be in no safer place than in God’s hand, whether here on earth or in His presence.
Jamison, Kathryne, Ezra, Violet and Calvin are indeed safe. Safely Home.
Oh, how they will be missed. Oh, how our heart breaks for their families. Our grief is nothing compared to theirs. Please pray for them in the coming months.
We don’t fully understand why God would take them. I learned a long time ago that a God we can fully understand and put into a neat box is not an awesome God worthy of praise. We may not see this side of heaven why He took them, but I know He will use their passing to expand His kingdom.
As our family prepares to depart in a matter of days, Lord willing, we go knowing there is no guarantee for our physical safety. We go expecting difficulties and trials. We go painfully aware of how weak we are. Lord, help us find contentment in this!
But we go in the abundant hope that God will go alongside us and that nothing will snatch us from His hand. (John 10:28)
We will go carrying the Pals family in our hearts and will always cherish the example they were to us.
Jamison and Kathryne- We love you and are so proud of you. You finished well. You died in the service of the King. We look forward to the day when our paths finally cross again!
Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe